ANALYSING INTERVIEW DATA
Interviews form an essential part of the case study approach. The following extract is taken from an interview with a small school head teacher as part of a case study about small primary schools (pupil numbers fewer than 100) in which the role of the head teacher forms a significant part.
Read the following extract carefully
CONSTRUCT A SIMPLE REPRESENTATION (graph, series of pictures, web, etc) WHICH GIVE YOU INSIGHTS INTO THIS HEAD TEACHERS PROFILE.
Pay particular attention to one or more of the following issues:
(a) His promotions (biographical dimension)
(b) His satisfaction with the job (personal dimension)
(c) His motivation.(career dimension)
Note that the head had been in his job for one year and a term.
The interview questions are in brackets at the head of the section. Numbers alongside paragraphs are for ease of identification.
(Give me a summary of your career to date)
1). I trained as a secondary teacher initially but transferred to primary and middle schools as there were no jobs were available to me. I am now in my seventeenth year of teaching, eleven in Surrey in 2 First & Middle schools.
My first school was a deprived school, which was great fun; I worked there for 6 years.
My second school was middle class...kids suffered from middle class deprivation... all they wanted was to have time lavished on them... to be honest, I tried to get out of teaching from that school... I worked for a very difficult head who on the outside was very kind & helpful, but behind the scenes was devious... I was a scale 2, head of year 5; I applied for the scale 3 head of lower school... I applied for that and he appointed someone from outside... when he said to me the following day wed like you to tell her about how the job should be done and I said there wont be any time, because I shant be here... this was before Id even got another job... I even applied for a job in industry... didnt get it, but it was toe in the water time... and coming to this LEA was a move to get away from the old LEA... I even tried to move sideways (to another scale 2... for science) but was told that I should go back into the classroom and attend some more courses.
2). I eventually got out and came to this LEA. I worked for certainly the best head Ive ever come across... he was brilliant... Within 6 weeks of arriving I had an appraisal interview... which was quite a daunting prospect! ...We discussed a lot of things and he said where do you go from here? and I said I didnt know... He said that with all my experience I should be going onto the management ladder... I told him I didnt feel confident enough and he said that its crying out for people like you... from the appraisal he put me onto a lengthy maths course for co-ordinators (to add to my PE and IT)... did a bit of organisation then got on the deputy heads merry-go-round...
3). I went for one deputys job, one small headship... then eventually got the deputy head of a medium sized primary... where I worked for another excellent head... and after a while he said why arent you moving on and applying for some heads jobs... so I did, and this is where I am.
(So in five years you moved from being ready to leave teaching, to being head at this school?)
4). Yes. Ive had a number of duff heads with no INSET and no encouragement.
My first head gave me no career guidance at all... in fact he was counting down to the day when he retired... His replacement was a lady who didnt like men! I ran four lunchtime clubs and four evening clubs and yet she would come into my class and say this book hasn't been marked...why not? So we didnt get on well together. I suffered from stress and had three months off school... eventually I got out of there and worked for a man who shouted and blustered and went red when any children were in the vicinity... He then retired and was replaced by a very pleasant guy... but I didnt really agree with the things he was in to... He was in to learning by experience in a big way... Im not against that but there was no structure to it...nor any ending.
5). With some heads, there was a philosophical divide... but changing LEAs I came to work for this wonderful head who was very helpful to me.
6). I didnt even think of applying for deputy headships or headships in my first authority... there was no encouragement... no one was asking me where I saw my next move... they were too busy feathering nests and building up empires... Coming to this LEA was like a breath of fresh air... Its streets ahead in terms of staff development ... and theres some really good people.
(So you got this job on your second headship application?)
7). That's right. Its been a long and tortuous road in some respects... but an enjoyable road because Ive spent a lot of time with children and thats the thing that was most important to me... I could have spent years in my first LEA and not seen much of children but been out on courses... I actually enjoyed the games, the sports, the camaraderie that not only you got from children but from colleagues of like mind... and I thoroughly enjoyed that.
Now its a different camaraderie... but its still there... I can still link up with a variety of people... There was a time when if an adviser came into school I went other ways...Id have been found elsewhere because I didnt want anything to do with advisers... they just annoyed me... but now it doesnt worry me... Id even drink with an adviser...I dont mind!
(Why this particular school?)
8). I was interested in schools of this kind (rather than this specific school)... what I felt was that I wanted the opportunity to have your own school but not lose contact with the children... I felt that was a good thing for me... It also meant that there wouldnt be too many staff problems... for me, the problem in schools is the staff, the kids are OK... the staff can be the difficulty... That wasnt particularly my strong point... and still isnt... Its the assertiveness thing... I try and please people because thats the nature of the beast I am... but you cant please people all the time... you try your best but sometimes things need to be done... though people dont want to be doing them it has to be done... So I felt that coming here was a good opportunity to learn the trade.
9). In a larger school Id have to consider more people... I dont think Id be an autocratic head in a large school but Id have to consider more things... whereas here I consider my vision... where I see the school going... and all the decisions I make are channelled into that direction and I dont have to worry too much about the other teachers... I know that what we are doing is right... the way the school seems to be going... the children are happy.
(Are you saying that self-fulfilment in terms of having a hand on the rudder and good relationships with the children... but not too many outward concerns and details... is what makes the job attractive?)
10). Its knowing at the end that your school is yours... and you know what the perfect school is like in your eyes... where the children are kind to each other... they are pleasant to people coming into school... they work carefully... everything about the school is good... All heads have that vision but its very personal and difficult to put into words... you know when youve got there by Nirvana... youre never going to get there... but your standards are high and theyre pitched high... so when the kids are up there youre pleased.
(Has it been the job you expected it to be or have you made it the job you wanted it to be?)
11). Its been harder than I thought it would be... The problems have been the admin side, though it runs itself to a certain extent... but the constraints of time... Im probably a worse teacher because you dont have time to prepare things or think things through... Days just disappear... theres no time to sit down and talk things through... and thats what I feel is lacking, the lack of thinking time... Youve got your vision... you think you know where youre going along... There are certain times when you sit there and youre doing nothing and you feel guilty... On an admin morning Im sitting there and Ive read something and Im thinking about something and I feel guilty... And I shouldnt... Because theres a pile a papers you feel that you should be.
12). I get fulfilment out of running the place and getting it ticking... You get people coming into school from the community... and we go out there... I want people coming into the school and thinking Coo, look at all this activity going on... Just so theres people about and its alive, its a living thing.
13). Im not a leader... Im somebody who thinks they know how to do a job well and works hard at it... and at the end of the day weve got a place that is a good place... I wouldnt put myself in the leadership category... In fact I sometimes feel fairly insecure in the company of other heads.... the level of the discussion is above me... but then, theyve had thinking time because theyre non-teaching heads... documentation, etc.
The big schools have got the time, energy and experience to put those things into operation...
(What have been the main sources of frustration?)
14). The demands on my time from a variety of directions... sharing the teaching load through team teaching is ideal... even so-called admin time is eaten up in meeting people, going into infant classes to assist with computing... organizing health-and-safety checks, etc.
15). I hanker after keeping in touch with children...but not having a class responsibility... which is the really hard bit... it would be nice to go in there and work alongside colleagues... but as soon as you start coming out of the classroom youre into absent landlords and on to a rocky road.
16). I do try to make sure Im in schools at least four days a week... I always go to academic council meetings and core subject conferences and small schools cluster... though the clusters are beginning to splinter... Part of the trouble is that other small schools are so busy I cant even get in touch with them!
17). Academic council is in terms of comradeship... with colleague heads a lot more experienced than me who say the sort of things I would like to say. The cluster group is for reassurance where we sit down and the first part of the meeting is for sounding out... documents, problems with governors, etc. Other heads are very supportive. Its reassuring because we find that everyone else is suffering the same things... thats the biggest thing... you really feel good after one of the meetings because you feel reassured that youre not on your own... There might be times when you lose a bit of confidence, but then you go to a cluster meeting and find that someone else has got exactly the same problems.
(What would you like to be remembered for?)
18). When I leave the school I want people to think that the school is a better place for me having been there... I believe we have a happier group of children here than when I came.... Including some members of staff who believed that we needed sanctions to deal with the naughty children... I said "sanctions!" Theyre just young children... lets stress the positive... So we introduced the good book to recognize those who had done well. Some staff were sceptical about whether it would work and thought maybe it was a bit twee... but gradually despite a certain amount of consumer resistance about whether it would work... it does work...
19). All I want parents to say is that theyre happy with whats going on at our school... whenever we come somebodys always there to see us... if weve got a problem its taken seriously... if weve got a point of view, were able to voice it... he doesnt always agree with what were saying, but he listens, and might respond... so its that sort of thing.
20). I hear on the grapevine...people in the village say things are going well... maybe youre too close to it sometimes to know the difference from where youve come to where you are now.
Others know what was there before...and what there is now
(And where do you see your next move?)
21). I know Im not going to stay here...this isnt my final school. My final school will be about 150 children, 5 or 6 staff, a mixture of young and more experienced staff, a mixture of children (not all from one group)...and in this LEA.
22). This was my ideal school even before I applied for headships... but those arent always available when you most desperately want them. So it's what comes up in the area, look at it subjectively...is it right for you? Is it in the academic council I wanted? I respect the local heads... so this school had that going for it. The school was in need of a change...the previous head had been here for a long time...needed new ideas...it wasnt a show school...I wouldnt have applied for one of those. Far better to make your mark on a school that needs something doing to it...rather than going to a school where the only way is down!
(Would you say that in one sense you are not career minded?)
23). Its not got anything to do with next step is 150, then its 200, then its director of education... I see myself as being a head now.
24). Status isnt important to me... If Im asked what my job is, its always a teacher, never a head! People get to know... Im proud of it inside. When I think of where Ive come from... if I went back to my old schools, I think theyd say: yea, he got on all right. Yes, I feel good about it inside.
(Would you have any advice for the next head teacher?)
25). Id say to the next head...beware, it isnt easy but its a great training ground...cause youre hands are on everything...on the teaching, the admin, the governors, the policies, whatever is required of your school, your hand is there. It has to be. I suppose that when I move on it will be difficult to let go of all that...but thats the art of delegation. That will give me more thinking time which here I sadly wish I had more of. Here you cant delegate because theres no-one to delegate it to...you just put it in a different pile for another day.
26). Youve really got to have blinkered vision when youre in the school because theres so many things required. One day this week...we had the vicar in, two men coming to measure windows, the policeman to do a talk about youth crime prevention, swimming in the afternoon, I had two children sick and we couldnt contact parents...and we still had 24 children that need to be kept gainfully on task. So, yes, its hard work...and sometimes you chase your tail...and that day was a bad day. I should have just said: theres window people coming...to hell with it!
(Do you think that only certain types of people should be applying for a small school headship?)
27). I think if youre a very quiet person, this wouldnt be the job for you. If you werent a particularly outgoing person, this would be desperate, because its extremely isolated because theres no-one to talk to...if theres just two teachers in the school, we dont see each other because of duties...So theres no banter...you have to make your own fun and games...you have to get on with the kids to do it. Youve got to be up-front with the parents...outside to see them...if they come in, youve got to give them priority. Its nice to get a bit of adult conversation as well. The more inward you are, the less this is the right school. Youve got to be outgoing or you could go mad.
28). Its probably the motivation for the job where you can actually sit down and chat to children. Youve got to be serious with the children but youve got to have fun as well. The kids would probably say hes quite strict at times but they know that if theyre upset theres someone to look after them; theres someone to put an arm around them and say come on, tell me what the trouble is. Someone wholl listen to what theyve got to say.
Theres time for fun and theres time for work; if they do something good, Im the first to come and congratulate them in it...but if theyre capable of better and they give in, I dont like that.
29). Im pleased to be here...but I know its only a transit stop. I think I knew it when I came and I know it more clearly now.
END OF INTERVIEW
From the head teacher's responses, you should be able to gain some important insights into his philosophy, personal ambitions and vision for the school.
The interview illuminates a range of issues which can form the basis for further investigation:
The significance of his career life history.
The distinctiveness of small school headship.
The way in which the 'person' of the head teacher and the school context are closely interwoven.
Case study is about the particular, but has the potential to inform other situations. At some point it may be possible to transfer the understanding gained from the above data into a different small school context and begin to establish criteria which are generalisable.
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